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Subsequent Childbirth After a Previous Traumatic Birth

Beck, Cheryl Tatano; Watson, Sue

doi: 10.1097/NNR.0b013e3181e501fd

Background: Nine percent of new mothers in the United States who participated in the Listening to Mothers II Postpartum Survey screened positive for meeting the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fourth Edition criteria for posttraumatic stress disorder after childbirth. Women who have had a traumatic birth experience report fewer subsequent children and a longer length of time before their second baby. Childbirth-related posttraumatic stress disorder impacts couples' physical relationship, communication, conflict, emotions, and bonding with their children.

Objective: The purpose of this study was to describe the meaning of women's experiences of a subsequent childbirth after a previous traumatic birth.

Methods: Phenomenology was the research design used. An international sample of 35 women participated in this Internet study. Women were asked, "Please describe in as much detail as you can remember your subsequent pregnancy, labor, and delivery following your previous traumatic birth." Colaizzi's phenomenological data analysis approach was used to analyze the stories of the 35 women.

Results: Data analysis yielded four themes: (a) riding the turbulent wave of panic during pregnancy; (b) strategizing: attempts to reclaim their body and complete the journey to motherhood; (c) bringing reverence to the birthing process and empowering women; and (d) still elusive: the longed-for healing birth experience.

Discussion: Subsequent childbirth after a previous birth trauma has the potential to either heal or retraumatize women. During pregnancy, women need permission and encouragement to grieve their prior traumatic births to help remove the burden of their invisible pain.

Cheryl Tatano Beck, DNSc, CNM, FAAN, is Distinguished Professor, School of Nursing, University of Connecticut, Storrs.

Sue Watson, is Chairperson, Trauma and Birth Stress, Auckland, New Zealand.

Accepted for publication January 27, 2010.

To all the courageous women who shared their most personal and powerful stories of their subsequent childbirth after a previous traumatic birth, the authors are forever indebted.

Corresponding author: Cheryl Tatano Beck, DNSc, CNM, FAAN, School of Nursing, University of Connecticut, 231 Glenbrook Road, Storrs, CT 06269-2026 (e-mail:

© 2010 Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, Inc.